Country singer Jennifer Nettles has been busy branching out from that genre of late, with a stint on Broadway and her first role in a TV film all taking place in the last few years.
But, fans of her music should be ready for a sneak preview of her latest work during her “Playing With Fire” tour, which makes a stop on Dec. 11 at the Silver Legacy.
“The thing I’m most excited about for this tour is to introduce my fans to the new music,” Nettles told the Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa. “The tour’s name is ‘Playing With Fire’ – that’s the name of the new album. I’m going to playing much of that music throughout the show.”
Two very different singles from the album – the upbeat “Sugar” and the ballad “Unlove You” – were released in November. Nettles told the Morning Call that these new songs have more of what she called “an intentional voice” than her previous solo work, which was closer at times to soul music mixed with country.
“Over the past couple of years, I have really been able to sort of evolve a bit,” she said. “So, I would say that on this album, many of the tracks are much more directed country. ... And again, I think I’ve evolved a little bit more as a writer, with a clearer vision of where I want to be.”
Nettles has been working on that vision for decades. Born in Douglas, Ga., Nettles performed throughout her early school career and also earned a degree from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga. It was there that her first band, Soul Miner’s Daughter, reached regional acclaim in the late '90s.
After leading the Jennifer Nettles Band and touring the South in the early '00s, Nettles joined singers Kristen Hall and Kristian Bush in the band Sugarland in 2003. To date, the band has had five No. 1 singles on the country charts, including “It Happens,” “Want To,” “Settlin’,” “All I Want To Do” and “Already Gone.” The group also won two Grammys in 2009 for the song “Stay” (Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group and Best Country Song).
Nettles also sang a duet with Jon Bon Jovi for his band’s song, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” which went to No. 1on the country charts in 2006 and earned a Grammy Award for Best Collaboration.
Sugarland itself is still a going concern, although Hall left the group in 2005 and Bush has also been working on solo material for the past few years. Nettles told the Morning Call that she does perform some Sugarland songs as part of her solo shows.
“The status is ‘open-ended’,” Nettles said of the band. “That’s how we left it. We both wanted to go on to other ventures and try other things. And, I think we are both really enjoying that. … So, when the time is right and we decide, then we’ll come back and do something.”
Her first solo album, “That Girl,” was released in 2014, and it was a departure in many ways from her Sugarland work. It was produced by Rick Rubin, who has worked with artists as diverse as Johnny Cash and Metallica, and features song co-writes with fellow artists such as Sara Bareilles and Richard Marx. The album reached No. 5 on the Billboard charts and No. 1 on the country album charts.
Nettles has also branched out into acting roles. She appeared as Roxy in the hit revival of “Chicago” on Broadway earlier this year, and she stars as Dolly Parton’s mother, Avie Lee, in a TV-movie version of the country legend’s song, “Coat of Many Colors.” It is slated to be broadcast on Dec. 10, right before the Reno show.
Nettles told Rolling Stone in a recent interview that she was honored by playing Parton’s mother. “What I really want to talk with (Dolly) about most is the relationship she had with her mom,” Nettles said, “and to find out more about when those moments of levity would shine through.” She added that she plays Parton’s mother when Dolly was 8 – and in the midst of being a mom to eventually 12 children. “That, in and of itself could be at times, crazy mad fun and also might cause one to have a few moments of gravity, too.”
As for Nettles, she became a mother for the first time three years ago, giving birth to her son Magnus. She recently told People magazine that being a working mother has been a learning process.
“I was never one of those girls that felt it was my dream to get married and have a family,” she said. “That wasn’t me. But, I say it like this: being a mother is my first priority, but it is not my first calling. I had a purpose before that: to create art that connects. But, at the same time, I am better for having become a mother.”